The need for economic leadership


For a long time in Malawi, when people talk of leadership, the default is to assume that leadership refers to political leadership.

When citizens discuss transformative leadership, it always seems to refer to politicians. However, leadership is at many levels and in many spheres of Malawi. While political leadership might be considered a very important tenet of a country, it is not the only leadership that needs to transform and be transformative in this country.

Similarly, when discussions on the economy are held, there is an inherent connotation that the economic failures are purely due to structural deficiencies of the economy and the policies pursued since independence. Since 1994, the failures of the economy have been blamed on political leadership. This type of analysis ignores the important role that other important factors play in making economies perform. These are economic management and economic leadership.


What is really meant by economic management? Economic leadership is about making the hard policy decisions even when they are unpopular with the electorate as long as they are for the good of the country, even if it means taking something away from those with a vested interest. This is where the non-state actors can play a critical role of educating the electorate as to why such policy changes are good for the country and, inevitably, in their own best interest in the longer run. This role cannot be for the politicians alone.

This means doing economic things right. There are times when the country has crafted good economic policies and strategies that make sense on paper and yet these are either implemented or implemented in the wrong way. Poor economic leadership generally means a populist opposition captures the public mood and pits it against serious and meaningful reforms. While most of people will confuse economic management with economic leadership, these two terms are not the same. Economic leadership while related to economic management is not the same. Just like in the business sector, a good leadership is not synonymous to management. In that sense then economic leadership is about the ability to do the right things economic-wise.

To expect politicians to be the economic leaders is a fallacy. Politicians by their nature are concerned with advancing their political interests and economics is not an end goal but a means to gaining political power. On the other hand, economic leadership is the concerned with advancing the country’s economic interests. These two are not necessarily in conflict with each other. Politicians can pursue economic interests in their quest for political power. The problem comes when politicians and economists bring out different perspectives on the solutions to the economic problems facing a country, especially when these two groups put forward arguments based on protecting their interests and advancing their own agendas. It is not uncommon to find politicians and economists both avoiding the facts and the objectivity in dealing with Malawi’s current economic problems. How many times has Malawi witnessed different institutions engage in finger-pointing when things go wrong? History has witnessed cases when the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) blames the government for failure to contain inflation and similarly the government pointing fingers at RBM for failing to reduce interest rates. These acts of finger-pointing and shifting blame game is a symptom of lack of economic leadership.


The other confusion that needs to be dealt with is the mistake that the majority make of assuming that leadership is the same as leader. A leader is a person who occupies a position and if that particular person is able to carry out the functions of that position effectively, then they have demonstrated leadership. In a situation where a person who occupies the position fails to carry out the functions of that position adequately and effectively, there is a failure of leadership. Malawian institutions, especially economic institutions, do not need leaders but leadership. The role of leaders is in the fact that they are the medium through which leadership can be exercised. Do not confuse leaders with leadership.

The Malawian economy has for a long time lacked economic leadership. Economic leadership in advanced economies is the domain of non-state actors not government or politicians. It is outside the political arena. There is a vacuum of economic leaders and hence economic leadership since the medium of leadership is the leader. Economic leadership is vital since it can be a source of sanity to the political gamesmanship of using the economy as a weapon for vote gathering. It is this lack of economic leadership that makes it possible for Malawian politicians to advance their political aspirations at the expense of the majority who are struggling to make ends meet.

In Malawi, the tendency to attribute any economic problems to political leadership when, in fact, the critical problem is economic leadership is what kills the country. By nature of the characteristic that make politicians good politicians, economic management is none of them. Those politicians are voted into power based on different attributes and not their economic leadership abilities. It is, therefore, unreasonable to expect politicians who have less capacity in economic management to be at the helm of economic leadership.

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